Response on Jack London’s “The Law of Life”
Death is as natural as birth. The difference is that birth usually brings happiness to people around the baby born, while death usually gives sadness to people around the deceased person. (Well, at least this is what I oftentimes find in Indonesian’s culture.) I do not know how old this earth is, how many babies have been born, how many people have died. London said, “They did not count, they were episodes. They had passed away like clouds from a summer sky.” People come and go in this world. Their life in this world is just like an episode. “To perpetuate was the task of life” means that it is natural for babies to be born in this world, to continue human being’s life in this world. “Its law was death” means that after undergoing an episode of life in this world, it is natural for people to die. No one escapes from death.
However, it is scary to imagine how someone faces death by being left alone in a cold place, no shelter, no food, no drink, only many wild animals around, like what Koskoosh undergoes in Jack London’s short story entitled “The Law of Life”. For old people who think that their death is close at present time—I concluded that the story in “The Law of Life” happened in an Indian tribe living around the nineteenth century or before that—they choose to be at home in a warm place surrounded people they love such as spouse, children, grandchildren while waiting for their last breath to stop. Nevertheless, nobody can choose what kind of death they prefer.
Waiting for death to come being surrounded by his spouse, children, and grandchildren is something that Koskoosh has to face. He cannot ask his son to take him with the tribesmen because he himself “had abandoned his own father on an upper reach of the Klondike one winter”, and before his son leaves him, Koskoosh says “It is well. I am as a last year’s leaf, clinging lightly to the stem … My eyes no longer show me the way of my feet, and my feet are heavy, and I am tired. It is well.” By saying that, Koskoosh knows the consequence, he will be left alone and wait for death without anybody around. But Koskoosh does not complain. It is, in fact, the way of life of his tribe. Other people in that tribe will experience the same thing. “He had been born close to the earth, close to the earth had he lived, and the law thereof was not new to him. It was the law of all flesh.” I guess, later on, Koskoosh’s son will undergo the same thing too like what his father does, if he does not die in a war as a warrior—one pride in Native American culture—or when hunting animals for food.
Why did those Native American people have such a weird habit—that can be considered as killing old people slowly but cruelly? The hard struggle to survive in that era made them do so. They had to fight with the white people that wanted to rob their territory and the nomadic habit. Instead of being a burden in one community when moving from one area to another area, the old people peacefully “reconciled” with their so-called fate. Sacrificing ourselves mattered much more than the egotism. Isn’t it the core of being a warrior?
Yogya, April 2003